Chapter 12: Redirection
The Loonatics and the Justice Avengers X spent half the afternoon attempting to do one last search of New Chicago before deciding they should wait until Wonder Bat had proof the base really was in this district. Exhausted, grumbling, and losing faith, they trudged all the way back to the tower. When they caught sight of the wreckage in the square down the road from the tower, they stopped to investigate what happened.
"Call me crazy, but does it look a bit like a tornado and an earthquake came through at the same time?" Firebird commented.
"Not crazy to guess that, no," Shadecat shrugged.
They didn't get much more discussion before Knave and Wolf Man caught sight of their landing and rushed over.
"There you are!" Wolf Man said, "What happened to 'we've found their base, see you at the tower'?"
"There was a bit of a…snag," Ace answered hesitantly, "What happened here?"
"The 'doctors' popped in after you left. The two of us had it in hand until they called in backup."
"Makeshift?" Mars Man questioned.
"No," Knave shook her head, "some woman who's apparently been causing trouble in New Vegas. She disabled us without even coming near us, like how the history books say Black Cat used to jinx people."
"So there's a fifth person in their little coalition," Commander America said, "they all got away, and now we have no idea where they're hiding?"
"Pretty much sums it up, yeah."
"I'm afraid to ask if things could get any worse."
"Based on you guys' track record, they probably will," Duck commented, turning his beak up at them.
"Alright, now you're just trying to pick a fight," Dr. X said.
"Is it working? 'Cause I can take you all! Just watch me!"
"In case you've forgotten," Ebon Panther cut back in, "we are on the same side."
"Are we, though?" Tech countered, "'Cause I'm hearing an awful lot of criticism and berating and not a lot of support."
"Hmm, I wonder why," Metal Man sneered.
"Hey!" Knave snapped, "What is going on with you guys?"
"And where was all this when I was suggesting we not bother with the team act?" Wolf Man added, receiving a sharp glare from Knave in response.
"Maybe you were right, 'cause it's not going so well so far," Lexi said.
"We're just not looking in the right place," said Ace.
"Or we're not looking with the right people," Green Lantern sighed.
These words coming from one who had been playing diplomat so far were a breaking point. One more word and a proper argument would break out.
Envy, perched on a roof nearby and observing this whole scene, beamed triumphantly. Once that proper argument reached a heated peak, her work would be done. Then again, pushing them this way was proving quite entertaining and she was quite good at it. Even without touching Mars Man, Firebird, or Dr X.'s minds, she was driving a wedge they wouldn't recover from. Maybe then she would drive the teams themselves apart as well, end this hero problem once and for all. Time for the coup de grace. So she added Wolf Man and Knave to her hit list and pushed her hardest yet.
That was her mistake.
She had been right to avoid the telepaths who would sense her intrusion. Frankly, she would have been pressing her luck by invading on Wonder Bat's mind were the bat in question not distrusting by nature. But Wolf Man and Knave had something their teammates lacked. Wolf Man's healing factor, the villainess clearly didn't realize, worked on his mental functions as well as his physical form, protecting him from psychological trauma. Knave, on the other hand, had a special kind of discipline on her side; since her powers absorbed aspects of the victims' psyches as well as their abilities, she had practiced long and hard to filter out any voices in her head. Neither of them knew right away what was going on, but both of them resisted and realized someone was behind this. They exchanged brief glances, trying to decide how best to approach this.
Before they could even say anything, the Batmobile came by, Wonder Bat hopping out. "OK, I drop in to say I figured something out and I come back to this. What is going—?!"
Knave quietly gestured to her to keep out of it even as the others were heating up. It had been made clear this escalation wasn't natural, and she knew one way to easily prove it. Once Wonder Bat seemed to get the signal, Knave nodded to Wolf Man, letting him sink back into the nearest shadows and begin tracking down the source of the mental incursions, then looked at Wonder Bat and gave a twirl of the wrist.
Wonder Bat was uncertain at first what this meant, but she was detective enough to figure it out without much questioning. Lasso. Deftly and silently, she reached under her cape to draw the lasso from her belt.
"I don't even know why we agreed to this!" Champion was saying, "We've worked perfectly well without any of you tagging along! In fact, I work perfectly well by myself!"
Then Wonder Bat swung the lasso out, wrapping it around Champion's wrist.
"And the truth is, I don't mean anything I just said! We'd still be getting nowhere if you weren't helping, and I respect you too much to push you away!"
"Oh, yeah?!" Duck rebutted, "Well, I—" Then he realized what Champion just said. "Wait, what?"
Slowly, everyone realized what he'd said and looked at him. Then he realized what he'd said and, after a moment of confusion, realized something warm was wrapped around his wrist. Looking to the source, he caught Wonder Bat holding the lasso on him. There wasn't exactly a way to explain this.
Champion blinked. "…uh, Bats?"
Wonder Bat just looked at him. "You tell me. I just got here."
"Wait, if that's…" Tech quickly put the pieces together, "…then you're not…"
"Alright, what is going on?!" Shadecat demanded.
"I'll tell you what!" Suddenly, someone was thrown to the ground at their feet, Wolf Man jumping down on top of them. As he pinned his target to the ground, fighting the bite of his claws on his tendons, he turned her over to reveal her as Envy. "How long have you been following them around?"
"Get off me, you stupid mutt!" Envy snapped.
Wonder Bat rolled her eyes, pulling the lasso off of Champion and letting Wolf Man wrap it around Envy's wrist instead.
Envy struggled for about half a second before groaning and giving in. "Pretty much all day."
"So that's it," Mars Man realized, "She has the telepathic ability to put pressure on the mind. She must have been pressing on everyone's minds at once so we'd turn on each other."
"I mean, the duck didn't need much prodding from me."
Duck noticeably elected not to respond.
"Well," Wonder Bat smirked, "since we've got her in this position already…" She yanked on the lasso, dragging Envy over to her. "What's your little gang up to?"
Envy groaned. "As if Makeshift would let us know." There was no point in struggling against the legendary Lasso of Truth—everyone knew that, history had made it clear. But that didn't mean she couldn't try something else. So while they were focused on her, she put her other power to use.
"Alright then." Wonder Bat delivered a sharp tug to the lasso, using her boot to keep Envy pinned down just in case. "Where's his base?"
Envy glared at her…and smirked. "Too late." All she had to do was touch the ground and every plant on the block came alive to entangle the heroes. It wouldn't hold most of them for long, but it gave her a chance to come free of the lasso and get a head-start on running for it. Champion was the one who finally broke free and raced after her, Mars Man giving him a psychic shield as he took off, but Envy was ready for him. The second he came from behind to grab her, she plucked a pod from her belt and threw it at him. Naturally, he caught it and crushed it, but that was exactly what she wanted. The pod erupted in a cloud of poison spores that even a Kryptonian couldn't fight. Champion stumbled back, coughing and losing balance until he collapsed.
While Envy started back on the run, however, Max Flash, Mars Man, and Shadecat got free—Mars Man and Shadecat by phasing out, Max Flash by vibrating his molecules through the vines.
Rev watched Max Flash in astonishment. "I-can't-do-that!"
"Yeah, but you can fly!" Max Flash retorted.
"Max!" Shadecat cut in.
"Right! I'm on her!" So he raced off after the villainess.
Shadecat turned to Mars Man. "You help Champ, I'll get the others out." Once he nodded and flew off to tend to the unconscious Kryptonian, she turned to offer each of the entangled heroes a hand to phase them out.
Maximum Flash raced after Envy, careful not to lose sight of her until he grew close. There was no way she could outrun him and she didn't have enough of a head-start to lose him. He was going to catch her.
Unfortunately, she knew that, so she set another obstacle in the way. After all, she was running down a populated street and innocent civilians were even more vulnerable to her vines and thorns than the heroes. She didn't even need to slow down. Every car she passed was immediately beset by plant attacks, leaving a trail of screaming, struggling bystanders.
Maximum Flash was forced to stop running. It wasn't likely that knocking Envy out would stop the plants. He'd have to risk losing her to keep the civilians out of harm's way until the others caught up. So he turned from the chase and started prying open car doors to speed away everyone he could. Once that was clear, he rushed back to free the first person properly entangled. He tried simply prying the vines off, but the thorns put an end to that. He could simply get them out the same way he got out, but he'd never tried vibrating someone else's molecules with his and it wasn't exactly a risk he was willing to take. Running out of time. Think fast, Maxx! While he was thinking of a solution, he turned on his COMM. "Guys, whoever's out better come give me a hand! Envy's raised a lot of green problems to make sure I'd lose her!"
"We're on the way, Max," Commander America answered, "Just hold it off as much as you can."
"Yeah, that's kind of the problem." He finally got desperate and dove straight in, taking the bite of every thorn to get the vine to separate long enough to let out the civilian trapped within. I heal fast anyway. …ow. "Everybody get moving, would you?!"
"Already on it!" Firebird called as she came flying in, sending out a telekinetic wave that caused the plants to flinch and recoil. This was all the opening Maximum Flash needed to pull all the civilians out. "Right, one problem down."
That, of course, was when the plants recovered and turned on her, looking as angry as a bunch of thorny vines could.
"One problem getting worse."
"Time to see what we can really do together!" Ace called as he jumped in with his blade at the ready, "Guardian Strike Sword, attack!" So he dove in, driving his sword through a vine to cleave it in two before turning to use his laser vision to cut through the next one.
"Sounds like a plan!" Commander America called as he rushed in. He jumped up to use a crushed car as a springboard, leaping up over a vine as it tried to grab him so that he could catch it on the way down and drive his vibranium shield through it. It was just sharp enough on the edges to cut through as Ace's sword had.
"Looks like fun!" Wolf Man called, "Let me give it a try!" So he slid in to slash his claws through two vines that dove at him at once.
Just like that, they were back on form as if Envy had never touched their thoughts. Lexi came in with a brain blast to stun the vines, leaving perfect targets for Slam's tornado to sweep through. Ebon Panther's claws cut through the vines just as easily as Wolf Man's. Torunn tossed lightning bolts left and right, incinerating every plant she hit. Green Lantern, Metal Man, Tech, and Blackhawk each sent their own projectiles into the fray as Rev and Max Flash ran interference.
Aqualass was the only one who was outright dodging and attempting to stay back. "I don't think watering these guys is a good idea! What do I do?!"
"Well, ask Psycho if—" Commander America cut himself off when he turned to take account of their side of the fight. "Where is Psycho?"
ROAR! Suddenly, something flew over them and landed right in the middle of the mass of writhing plants. A green monster, human in form but impossibly large, had jumped in. This would be Hulk Man. With another roar, he pounded his fists into the nearest vine. Then he grabbed a nearby crushed car and hurled it at the first vine to retaliate. Then the next vine to retaliate got caught in his fist and ripped out of its roots. Then that vine was clutched in his fist as if its thorns were made of paper and used as a whip to bludgeon the last remaining vines into a pulp of sap on the pavement. As if that hadn't been enough, Hulk Man gave a final cry of "SMASH!" and then pounded his vine-whip into the ground and stomped on it with both feet, an impact so hard it shook the entire street.
As Hulk Man stood there, panting and growling amidst the sappy carnage of his rampage, the heroes looked on, stunned.
"Uh, big guy?" Metal Man finally called, "I think you got it."
"Yeah, and next time, lead with that!" Duck added on.
Hulk Man merely dropped to a sitting position as he slowly morphed back into Kyan Banner. Kyan then turned to glare at Duck. "Shut up."
Wonder Bat sighed, stowing her gear. "Envy's long gone by now. Mars Man, is Champion alright?"
"Still unconscious, but he's breathing," Mars Man responded, "We should head back to the tower, give him the time and space to rest and heal."
Wonder Bat nodded. "Agreed. Let's go."
So Firebird headed over to help Psycho get stable again, and they all made their way back to the tower.
Envy, by now, was several blocks away. She could tell the fight was over and she could tell who won. She wasn't happy with the outcome.
And she knew who was going to pay for it.
As the source of supplies for every chemistry project in 1000 miles and the infamous birthplace of the Joker himself, ACE Chemicals was kept under heavy guard. Tonight, however, that guard was not enough. The guards at the south end were all suddenly sent to sleep. The guards at the west end were all knocked out when a sudden gust of wind threw them into the walls. The guards at the north end bumped into each other when their lights suddenly all went out at once, knocking each other out and accidentally firing several of their guns into the security tower managing all the cameras. The guards at the east end were assaulted by a mysterious blur that punched them all unconscious in a matter of seconds. The four assailants then met at the main gate and knocked the door down, clearing their path in.
Makeshift smiled as they stepped in. "Now we just get past the laser grid."
"And how do we do that?" Spin Doctor asked.
"Maybe a few lucky guesses?"
Lady Luck got the idea and stepped up. She moved randomly through the room in a series of ducks, flips, hops, and limbos, coming to the end with nary an alarm in sight. Then she approached the final security room and shut the system down. "Perhaps I should start selling my services."
"I think we've got first dibs on your skills now," Makeshift commented in return as he led them through the main hall. Just as it had been all those centuries ago, the majority of the building was composed of the central mixing chamber, containing the vats of hundreds of chemical compounds (all now properly secured with lids at the end of the night—thank you, health and safety regulations). At the end of the walkway in this chamber was the terminal engaging all the locks. Makeshift made his way over and hacked into the terminal, disengaging the locks and raising the lids on the vats (never mind, health and safety regulations).
"Shouldn't we be worried about getting caught?" Witch Doctor inquired.
Makeshift scoffed. "Those rookies tracking Lady Luck's scent are no match for us, the cops won't get here until we're long gone, and the Loonies and JAX will be tearing each other apart by now. I wouldn't bother worrying."
"Hmm," Spin Doctor nodded, "So now what are we doing? Acid collection for a bank heist? Salvaging nuclear material? Synthesizing curium to hold over the heroes?"
"First things first," Makeshift answered, stepping up to the rail to locate exactly which vats he needed, "With enough of these compounds in hand, I can make a lifetime supply of the serums giving me my powers."
"So the truth comes out!" The sudden shout drew the startled attention of the four villains, turning all eyes to Envy as she came down the walkway towards them. "All of this just to help you get ahead?! I should've known! You're just a bullied little kid trying to bite back at the world when, with all of us together, we could have the world under our heels!"
"Now, Envy, let's stay calm here," Makeshift stepped up, "I'm just giving us a little edge for the next stage of the plan, which, by the way, is still on."
"No, the plan is already blown, genius, because you set me up! You claimed you knew everything we'd need to know about the heroes to take them down, so you might have mentioned that the telepaths weren't the only ones who might catch onto what I was up to! Wolf Man and Knave took one hit of my powers and knew exactly where I was! And from what I saw while I was hastily exiting the scene of the crime, they're getting stronger!"
"Alright, just because I didn't see this coming doesn't make it my fault!"
"Oh, doesn't it? Whose plan was this again?" She then turned to the others. "And why exactly are we taking orders from this guy? Any one of us has enough power to crush him like a bug ten times over, but we're scurrying around the city running errands for a weasel that needs a shot of super-juice every five minutes and who is using us to make himself top dog!"
"She makes a good point, boys," Lady Luck said.
Spin Doctor scoffed. "And I suppose she's using this point to suggest we put her in charge?"
"Who else would you suggest?" Envy shrugged, "The dunce I'm talking you down from?"
"Hold up!" Makeshift stepped back in, "I'm the one who set this up, I'm the one with the plan, and I'm the one calling the shots!"
"Well, every shot you've called so far has backfired."
"The heroes still haven't found the base yet, remember? We've still got a chance. We'll just have to…adapt."
"That's what I'm suggesting: we adapt to someone with the IQ to carry us. Admit it, you wanted me to go in, wear them down, and get caught. You wanted to cut me out, keep my cut of the eventual take for yourself, because you couldn't handle the competition. What's the matter, are you threatened by me? Are you worried I'm gonna send my plants to do you in if I get tired of following your rules? Or better question…are you afraid…because that's what I'm doing now?!" She reached out to call her vines—
—and Makeshift shoved her back with what was left of his most recent shot of enhanced strength, sending her tumbling over the railing of the walkway and down into the nearest vat. Before she could resurface, he shoved his foot through the railing to kick the lock and seal the vat off. "Not anymore."
"ARE YOU INSANE?!" Lady Luck screamed at him, "She'll drown in there! You don't even know what that stuff is, she might already be dead!"
"Yeah, that was kind of the idea. Don't worry, we don't need her anymore."
"Oh, is that how you're running things now? What happens when I start questioning your 'leadership decisions'? You gonna get rid of me, too? Good luck keeping the twins loyal once it's made properly clear how you stay in charge. Or do you already have replacements lined up for all of us?"
Makeshift simply stared her down, standing his ground. "If you wanna run off and cause some mayhem on your own, feel free. But don't come crying to me when every hero on the planet tracks you down. Now if you wanna solve that problem, help me get what we need to outgun them."
Lady Luck was more than prepared to snap back that their big gun was at the bottom of a chemical vat, but she resolved to merely glare at him and go along with it. For now. Casting a glance at the twins, it was pretty clear to her that they were on the fence at the moment. Let them be. They'll figure it out soon enough. So she stayed quiet, biding her time, as they got what Makeshift needed and left the building.
But what none of them knew was that the vat Makeshift had sealed Envy inside was of concentrated chlorophyll.
And she was far from dead.